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MikeCheck: Grizzlies building ‘gold standard’ track record for NBA draft, development success

MEMPHIS – If recent history is any indication, the Grizzlies are essentially a lock to make a smart, productive and impactful addition to their roster coming out of Thursday’s NBA Draft.

“Memphis is a bit of a gold standard as far as being able to draft and turn players into starters or rotation players,” former NBA executive and ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks insists. “They’re going to get two really good players where they’re picking, or maybe those picks get packaged and they move up. And that’s the recipe for roster sustainability here.”

Count Marks among those around the league who believe the Grizzlies are one of the best-positioned franchises entering both the draft on Thursday and the July 1 start of free agency.

Memphis enters the draft with two first-round picks (Nos. 22 and 29) in addition to the No. 47 overall pick in the second round. Beyond that, executive vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman and the front office could have at least $20 million in salary cap space for free agency. There’s also tremendous flexibility to make further moves with a collection of attractive expiring contracts as well as potential sign-and-trade options to facilitate larger deals.

At a minimum, the Grizzlies could simply use their draft picks to add more depth to one of the NBA’s brightest young cores alongside Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Ziaire Williams. Those players were all first-round picks at various stages of the last four NBA drafts.

And that group fueled a historic run in which the Grizzlies matched a franchise record with 56 victories and pushed the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors to six games in the Western Conference semifinals. Memphis posted the league’s second-best record with the second-youngest playing rotation among the NBA’s 30 teams last season.

Kleiman and coach Taylor Jenkins, who signed a multiyear contract extension last week, intend to remain aggressive and opportunistic this offseason as the team builds on what they believe is a championship foundation. The next step in that process leads Memphis into the draft, where the Kleiman-led front office has traded up from its initial position each of the last three years.

“Our approach is we’re going to take whatever we have available to us and work to make this team better,” Kleiman said entering the offseason. “We have a lot of draft assets. Are there opportunities that we have to make ourselves better within a window of contention? I’m excited to see what opportunities there are. We’re not going to lose sight of what got us here. We’re going to put ourselves in position to keep capitalizing on it.”

Speaking on a national conference call to promote ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Draft, Marks praised the Grizzlies for establishing a great culture and building their foundation through the draft. He also emphasized the success of Jenkins’ development system in Memphis after the front office brought in quality players through the draft.

Morant (2019) and Jackson (2018), who arrived as the second and fourth overall lottery picks, made All-NBA teams this past season. Their success was highly anticipated if not outright expected entering the league. But the Grizzlies have also seen Dillon Brooks arrive as the No. 45 overall pick in the second round and become one of the league’s most productive two-way wing players. They’ve witnessed Desmond Bane, who arrived as the No. 30 and final pick of the first round two years ago, become one of the league’s top-five three-point shooters this past season.

And regardless of the Grizzlies’ draft night outcome this time, more of the same is expected.

This is an interesting draft because very few players who were projected first-round picks or even top-40 picks decided not to enter their names in the draft. You have incredible depth of all these young players who, a lot of them in my opinion, should have probably stayed another year in college to really enter the NBA on the (lottery) red carpet.

Jonathan Givony

“Certainly, Ja is the headliner, but just look at what they’ve been able to do in the draft when you look at Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, Jaren, Brandon Clarke, the list goes on and on,” Marks explained. “They’ve been able to identify and develop, and the goal is now to retain. They’ve kind of hit the market on building their roster organically.”

The Grizzlies should find ample value in the 20s with this year’s draft class if they stand pat as currently positioned, according to highly regarded ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony.

“The Grizzlies, with those two picks, have a lot of options in front of them,” Givony said on the eve of the draft. “This is an interesting draft because very few players who were projected first-round picks or even top-40 picks decided not to enter their names in the draft. You have incredible depth of all these young players who, a lot of them in my opinion, should have probably stayed another year in college to really enter the NBA on the (lottery) red carpet.”

Most offseason projections – in the draft and free agency – list the Grizzlies biggest potential needs at backup point guard and depth at the wing-forward position.

Among some notable prospects Givony believes could be available in the Grizzlies’ draft range late in the first round at point guard are Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler and Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard. And wing prospects who fall in that early-20s range for the Grizzlies on recent mock drafts are Duke’s Wendell Moore, Arizona’s Dalen Terry and Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley.

There’s a care factor that goes into winning. We just love guys who come in and want to compete, want to win in every little thing. It’s the shooting games, the drills, the card games, the free-throw championship belt, the halfcourt shots, it’s everything. If you compete, you’re unselfish and ultimately care at the end of the day, those are great building blocks. We’ll take it from there. We’re going to develop as much as we can the great talent we bring into the organization.

Taylor Jenkins

The Grizzlies have previously shown a willingness to leverage draft assets to trade up on the board. They’ve also gone the other way and packaged picks with a current player in deals to acquire a proven veteran with playoff experience.

But there are similar characteristics they seek in just about any player they target.

“When you step into Memphis, you’re going to embrace giving everything of yourself for the team,” Jenkins said. “There’s a care factor that goes into winning. We just love guys who come in and want to compete, want to win in every little thing. It’s the shooting games, the drills, the card games, the free-throw championship belt, the halfcourt shots, it’s everything. If you compete, you’re unselfish and ultimately care at the end of the day, those are great building blocks. We’ll take it from there. We’re going to develop as much as we can the great talent we bring into the organization.”

Another draft brings another chance to maintain that Grizzlies gold standard.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.